A friend of mine recently asked if I could alter a pair of jeans for him. They were too long, and if I was going to be working on them, he wanted to see if they could be made into skinny-leg jeans rather than straight leg. I warned him that I didn’t have much experience tailoring clothes but said I would try it. As it turned out, it was easier than I thought.
I happened to find some helpful guidelines in a book called “The Complete Family Sewing Book.” I was a little hesitant about the instructions because the section is called “Tapering slacks,” and the book was published in 1972, when tapered pants may have been in. (I can’t say for sure, since I wasn’t around!)
Tapered leg and skinny leg are not created equal; no matter what you think about skinny jeans, which are narrow all the way down, I think we can all agree that tapered leg, with a wider top going to a small leg opening, is not a good look for anyone. But the pants did indeed turn out as we hoped, so here is what to do if you want to try it yourself.
Supplies: jeans, scissors, tailor’s chalk or marker, tape measure, pins, sewing machine, thread — you can choose either matching or contrast (most jeans have some shade of gold contrast stitching), iron.
• Turn the jeans inside-out and lay them on a flat surface. Smooth out the legs. If you want to make the jeans shorter, just cut off the bottom hem. If not, use a seam ripper to undo the stitching. Even if you don’t want to take up the length, you’ll have to take out the hem or it will just look weird at the bottom when you’ve put in your new seam. Trust me — if I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t.
• Determine the length you want and mark your new hemline. Add 1 inch and cut off the excess.
• There are two ways to figure out the size of your new leg opening. The easy way is to use a pair of pants you like the fit of and measure them — that’s what we did. But if you’re doing this because you don’t already have a pair of pants you like, grab the measuring tape. I’m sorry, but there’s math involved here.
First measure around the bottom of your pant leg. Write this number down. Now measure your foot — start at the back of your heel and bring the tape over your foot at your ankle and back down to meet the end of the measuring tape. Basically, the measuring tape follows that diagonal line on the heel of your socks. Add 1 inch to this measurement and write it down. Subtract the foot measurement from the leg opening measurement. Divide the difference by two. Have your answer? That’s how much you’ll take in the pant leg opening.
• Starting at the outside seam, use the measurement you just found and mark it on the hemline. For our project, I measured in 1.25 inches from the outside. Now find where your pocket ends on the outside seam. Put one end of your measuring tape here and run it down to your mark on the hemline. Mark the line with chalk or skip to pinning along this line. Put the pins in with the points facing the hem.
• Do it all again on the other pant leg. Make sure both leg openings are the same size. Now try the pants on, inside out with the pins in it. This is why you want the pins pointing downward! If you’re happy with the fit and you can get your foot through the opening, keep going. If not, make your adjustments and try it on again before moving ahead.
• Sew a new seam along your pinned lines, from the bottom up to the pocket. Before cutting off the excess, I had my friend turn the pants right-side out and try them on again. This is when we discovered that there was another step necessary not covered in the book. There was a little dimple at the top of the seam. If you look at your jeans, you’ll notice there is probably a line of stitching that stops right about in that place, and this is why. We’ll address this at the end.
• If you tried on the jeans for a final check, take them back off and turn them inside-out again. Cut off the excess from your new seam, leaving a 1/2-inch seam allowance.
• Press your hem: turn up the bottom 1/2 inch, press; then fold up 1/2 again and press. Pin if you need to. Straight stitch around the leg opening, running the edge of the presser foot along the top of the hem. Repeat on the other pant leg.
• Turn the pants right-side out, and we’ll address the dimple. Press the fabric from the back panel forward toward the seam. This should narrow as it goes up and finish near the top of the pocket. Pin or mark the bottom of this dart so you know where to stop stitching, then stitch it down from top to bottom. Do the same on both sides.
That’s it! Your new skinnier jeans are ready for a night — or day — on the town.